The pause in administering Johnson & Johnson’s one-shot vaccine amid reports of extremely rare blood clots in six patients who got the shot shouldn’t put a big dent in Louisiana’s mass immunization effort, the state health officer said Tuesday.
Dr. Joe Kanter said in an interview the state was only expected to receive 2,000 doses of J&J’s vaccine next week, and potentially only 2,000 the week after that, representing a small fraction of the weekly shipments. The state only got 8,000 doses of the vaccine this week amid nationwide supply shortages.
Kanter called the pause “frustrating” because of the popularity of the Johnson & Johnson shot in Louisiana, but he said it was the “prudent” step to ensure safety.
CareSouth Medical and Dental will not use the Johnson & Johnson vaccine at their event Friday, following guidance by the CDC and FDA.
“Numerically this is not going to be a big dent,” he said. “I think there’s a lot of nuance in the communication and we need to be careful in how we talk about it because we don’t want it to be more concerning than it needs to be.”
Kanter noted that the risk of dying from COVID-19 is much higher than experiencing the blood clots, which have been reported by six patients out of 6.8 million Johnson & Johnson shots administered. In Louisiana, more than 85,000 Johnson & Johnson shots have been administered, according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.
Gov. John Bel Edwards and Kanter joined other governors on a call with White House officials Tuesday morning as they made the decision to recommend states pause J&J shots. Some governors asked the feds about the possibility the pause will damage confidence in the vaccines over such a rare event, Kanter said.
“The answer they gave was listen, from day one, safety has been the most important thing,” Kanter said. “When you get a signal like this you have to hit pause and you have to investigate. Hopefully it’s a short pause. But with the stakes as high as they are the last thing you want to do is threaten your credibility.”
It’s not clear how long the pause will last. The acting head of the Food and Drug Administration, Dr. Janet Woodcock, said at a news conference the pause was only expected to last a matter of days, though the time frame depends on what the agency learns in the coming days as it investigates the matter.
The pause is also aimed at giving providers guidance on how to spot and treat the rare blood clots, Kanter said. Typically, blood clots are treated with an anticoagulant drug called heparin, but that treatment can be dangerous if used in these instances because the patients also experienced low platelets, the feds said.
The state has been able to keep most mass vaccination events that were scheduled to use Johnson & Johnson running by switching to the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, Kanter said. But he said some, like the Bayou Classic vaccine event on Saturday, may not be able to happen.
All Johnson & Johnson doses will stay in the refrigerators where they’re located while the pause is in effect, Kanter said.